There’s now a generation or two of Bruins fans who don’t know what it’s like to live through an era when pro hockey players were rock stars in the city of Boston.
That was the case 50 years ago in Boston when the Cup-winning Bruins were every bit as popular as the "Idiot" Red Sox of 2004, or as beloved as the many Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams of the past 20 years.
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The Bobby Orr Era Bruins teams of the early-to-mid '70s were as popular as any pro sports team has ever been in the Hub and it's coming up on exactly 50 years ago that the biggest Bruins moment ever took place on Mother’s Day, May 10, 1970.
It was the day Bobby Orr flew majestically through the air in overtime against the St. Louis Blues after scoring to cap a four-game sweep and give that core B’s group their first of two Cups in a three-season span.
It was the first Stanley Cup for Boston in 29 years, dating to the famed days of the “Kraut Line.” Arguably, those B's are the most beloved Boston title team of all time, with pretty stiff competition from Larry Bird’s Celtics, Big Papi’s Idiots and the Brady/Belichick Patriots dynasty of the past two decades.
I mean, who's better than the guys on that 1970 team?
“I wore a tuxedo that night. We were playing St. Louis that night and we knew they weren’t going to beat us,” a smirking Derek Sanderson said this week on a Zoom video conference call as he recalled the Game 4 Cup clincher. “So, I wore a tuxedo to the Garden and the guy said ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ They had the Cup there and everything. [Teammate] Teddy Green said to me ‘What are you going to do if we lose this?’ and I had never thought about that. I said I’ll just wear a sweatshirt or something.
“Bobby had an absolute Cinderella year that season. He did everything right. He was on another planet. So when Bobby got the goal? That’s what I was happy about because he did everything for us that year. It was great.”
Can you imagine Brad Marchand doing something like that before the clinching game of a Stanley Cup Final for the Bruins these days?
The “Flying Orr” goal is the most iconic moment of all time from that neverendingly entertaining hockey season in Boston, so it’s appropriate that it's been brilliantly captured in the new NHL Network documentary “1970 Bruins: Big, Bad and Bobby” that's set to debut on Sunday night at 8. For those keeping score at home, that’s the exact anniversary of the Orr goal heard ‘round Boston.
The documentary is narrated by Dropkick Murphy’s frontman Ken Casey with the exact proper amount of Bruins fan swagger describing one of the all-time best collections of hockey talent. The footage is vibrant and well-collected, from enthusiastic gallery god Bruins fans raving about their team to Sanderson hanging out with Joe Namath at his swinging '70s nightclub. And it’s a highlight reel tribute to the greatest hockey player to ever live, Bobby Orr, and the other key star on that team, Phil Esposito, who led the way with goal-scoring punch and B’s bravado to spare.
Orr maintains that a big part of what makes that 1970 team so memorable is the makeup of the group with approachable gentlemen such as himself and Johnny Bucyk, and fun-loving firebrands Sanderson and Johnny “Pie” McKenzie that brought plenty of good-natured chuckles to the table.
“The characters on the team. We didn’t hide away. We were in the public. We had a lot of character. We had a lot fun. We played hard and the fans knew when they came to a game that they were going to get an honest effort from everybody,” Orr said on a Zoom video conference call this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary. “That’s what they expected and that’s what they got. We had a wonderful following. It was a great group of guys. I think that has a lot to do with it.
“People weren’t afraid of the players. They were comfortable coming up to us and talking to us. That made a difference. And the game started to grow. Rinks were starting to be built [around Boston] and there were more fans around. We were just a fun group. We played and won a lot of hockey games. When you win, then you can have some fun.
"When you look at Phil, Johnny McKenzie and Derek [Sanderson] those are three characters. They were great fun. You guys [in the media] would have loved this group. You wouldn’t have had any trouble getting quotes from this 1970 group. I liked the press, but I wasn’t a big press guy. I knew Phil, and Derek and Eddie Westfall would all talk, so I wouldn’t have to say too much.”
It was certainly about the character and spirit of the group, but it was also about the players attaining hockey immortality by beating the Rangers, Blackhawks and Blues in the playoffs on the way to the Cup. It was about a magnificent, stereotype-busting 120-point campaign for Orr in 77 games where he became the first NHL defenseman to win the Art Ross Trophy. It was about 43 goals for Espo, who came one point short of giving the Bruins a pair of 100-point scorers in that magical season.
It was about Bucyk kicking in 31 goals of his own and Sanderson bringing swagger and attitude along with his 118 penalty minutes. Certainly, Turk won’t ever let Orr forget that it was his feed to No. 4 for the most iconic goal in NHL and hockey history.
Those Bruins players didn’t stay young forever, obviously, and the incandescent Orr was forced to retire well before his time because of knee injuries.
But the Mother’s Day image of Orr soaring through the air is still on the minds of Bruins fans all these 50 years later, and they'll be able to relive all of it in living color with a new group interview of Orr, Sanderson, Esposito and goalie Gerry Cheevers sitting down together for the documentary to talk about old, good times in Black and Gold.
That doesn’t include the running commentary from Bruins fans and Boston-area natives Denis Leary and Howie Long, and the odd story from legendary Boston sportswriters Kevin Paul Dupont of The Globe and ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. The season was a special one to Boston fans of a certain generation and has become something of legend passed down to those of us that weren’t lucky enough to be alive to experience it first-hand.
Now, Bruins fans, old and new, can take it all in with a documentary that lives up to the greatness of that 1970 Bruins' Stanley Cup-winning run that’s withstood the test of time as something to be cherished and remembered in and around the city of Boston.
It’s hard for some to believe that the Flying Orr goal turns is turning 50, but it’s easy to see why people are still talking about its place in Bruins playoff history all these years later.